Children without Friends Face Depression

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers compared the effects of peer rejection and social withdrawal among children, finding kids who don't have at least one friend are more likely to face depression that endures.

Children who are shy and withdrawn, or are rejected by other children, can fall into a downward spiral of sadness and anxiety. Friends can protect children from the emotiona impact of being excluded from peer activities.

According to William M. Bukowski, a psychology professor and director of the Concordia Centre for Research in Human Development, "Over time, we found that withdrawn kids showed increasing levels of sadness and higher levels of depressive feelings."

In the three-year study, researchers looked at 130 girls and 101 boys in the third through fifth school grades who were asked to answer whether they felt they were shy or preferred to be alone. They found that having at least one friend could allay feelings of sadness, finding that kids without a friend to engage with were more likely to experience depression.


Bukowski says, "Friendship promotes resilience and protects at-risk kids from internalizing problems such as feeling depressed and anxious." Making at least one friend has a protective effect for children excluded from peer groups and blunts negative emotional experiences.

He says the effect of not having friends in childhood is enduring. The study also found peer rejection when kids are perceived as aggressive or immature that can also negatively affect a child's emotional well-being.

The study found that withdrawn children could experience a “snowball” effect that worsens depression over time. For children who developed friends, the process was halted and depression was ameliorated.

Development and Psychopathology: DOI: 10.1017/S095457941000043X